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Featured Post - Slasher Marathon 2021

Since I started the website I've done a Slasher marathon every summer. This time I thought I'd start things off in the first week of...

Friday, May 28, 2021

Macabre (1958)

I’m a huge William Castle fan. The man made some of my favorite horror movies of the fifties and sixties. Sure, they are cheesy, but that is part of the fun. In all the years that I’ve been watching and enjoying his movies I’ve never seen Macabre. This is his first foray into what would become his signature gimmicky independent movies so it was about time for me to correct this omission.

The movie opens with the sheriff, played by Jim “Thurston Howell” Backus, talking to the local undertaker. He is complaining that a child’s coffin was stolen from his showroom. While this is going on the town doctor, Rodney, pulls up across the street. There is bad blood between the sheriff and the doctor. They were both in love with the same woman, but she chose the doctor, and died while giving birth to their first child. The sheriff as well as many of the locals blame him for her death as he was off having drinks with another woman instead of taking care of his wife.

This is important because when Rodney arrives home from work he finds that his daughter, Marge, is missing. While out looking for her the phone rings at his house telling the woman who picks it up that she has been buried alive and has four or five hours of air. With this news Rodney swears them to secrecy and goes looking for her based on the clues the caller gave. Why not call the cops? We already know that the sheriff hates him, especially after seeing the flashbacks that explain the animosity. The doctor wasn’t a very nice man. The rest of the movie is the search for the missing girl as well as trying to figure out who took her and why.

I kept my plot synopsis vague leaving out some details because this is a decent movie that I don’t want to spoil. That is doubly important because unlike his later efforts this Macabre isn’t a horror movie as much as it is a mystery. This leans heavily into the who done it and why plotline as they race to find the girl. Figuring that out might help them find Marge in time. That said we do get a lot of entertaining scenes of them creeping around a spooky cemetery in the middle of the night. This leads to a couple of gags that I won’t spoil but are clearly reused later in House on Haunted Hill. I found the story fun and the big reveal at the end a bit melodramatic but satisfying. When everything is explained it all makes sense, including some things about the story that had bugged me while watching it. Can’t say much more than that without spoilers.

The pacing is solid as well as the direction. Castle had worked for many years doing “B” pictures for the studios and television programs. By the time he set off on his own he knew how to make a lean flick that got right to the good stuff. Macabre is no different. He also cast some great actors in this one including the previously mentioned Jim Backus who even before his turn on Gilligan’s Island wasn’t really known as a heavy. Here he plays a bit of a bad guy. Another face that fans of seventies television will recognize is Ellen Corby who was Grandma on the Waltons. She did a lot of work in old Hollywood and was an excellent go to for a supporting role.

I really liked this movie. Though unlike his horror flicks I’m not sure how much I’ll re-watch Macabre. Being a mystery once you know what is coming a lot of the fun is taken out of it. That said the first watch is a blast and you get the bonus of seeing some early gags from Castle. Plus, I’m a completist and needed to see it. I recommend this one to both Castle fans as well as fans of mysteries.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Featured Post - Slasher Marathon 2021

Since I started the website I've done a Slasher marathon every summer. This time I thought I'd start things off in the first week of June. Having covered almost a hundred of them already I'm starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel a bit. Though I've found some great ones down there in the muck. While you will see some familiar franchises (I still haven't gotten to all the Friday the 13th movies yet) I hope to bring you some new stuff as well. At least that is the plan. 

For previous years click on the links below. 

Slasher marathon 2020

If you have suggestions as to a movie you think I should cover drop me an email at gutmunchers@gmail.com and I'll add it to the list. Look for the reviews to start Wednesday June 2nd and last until I run out of movies to talk about.

-John


Movie 1: Wrong Turn (2003)

Here we go. I thought I'd start off the marathon with a newer movie that I really like. While it isn't perfect Wrong Turn is a fun throwback to the crazy redneck hillbilly genre of the seventies. I know that some of you won't like it on the list here but it checks enough boxes for me to include it. 




I dove back into the eighties to check out Sweet Sixteen. This flick falls into that category of repackaged to make it look like a slasher. Though they might have also thought they were making a slasher movie. I don't really know because this one is sort of a mess. Still it is kind of a slasher so here it lands. 




I thought since I had such terrible luck with digging into the eighties that maybe I should try something newer that I've not seen before. Spoilers... that didn't end well either. I'm honestly not sure what the filmmakers were trying to accomplish with this one. Half horror and half comedy it fails to deliver either. 




This movie has been on my list to cover since I started doing these marathons back in 2017. To be honest I was never a fan of the flick but it had been years and there was a new cleaned up Blu-Ray released so it was time to revisit. I'm glad that I did.





Here is another movie that may or may not belong in my slasher movie marathon. You could make the case for Mother's Day being a rape revenge flick, but it doesn't fit nicely into that category either. We get enough stalking and killing, the setting in the woods, and some fun kills. This checks a lot of slasher movie boxes so I'm including it here. 





This is a movie that feels as if it was shoehorned into the slasher genre. It is a bit of a confusing mess with some supernatural elements, war crimes, escaped psychos, and other assorted genre tropes. I give them an "A" for effort but in the end it is sort of a mess that doesn't know what it wants to be. Click the above link for more. 




I've only recently been turned on to the work of director Ruben Galindo Jr. and I've been digging it. Grave Robbers is his take on a more traditional slasher story and it kicks much ass! I guess that is a big spoiler but I love this movie. Click on the link above to get more. 





I've been meaning to work this shot on video slasher movie into one of my marathons since I started the site. When it popped up on Joe Bob Briggs I felt like it was meant to be. So you know have my thoughts on a movie that many people hate and some people tolerate. Where do I fall on that spectrum? You will have to read the review to find out. 




I've been avoiding covering this movie for a couple of years now. I watched it when it first came out and while I enjoyed the creativity of the kills and the well executed gore I've never been a fan. This movie has a mean streak and is explicit to the point of trying too hard. Read my review for more details. 




Back to the eighties I go with this late entry into the slasher genre. It follows all of the expected tropes but still disappoints. This is also the first of two slasher movies that a grown up Lisa Loring, Wednesday Adams from the sixties television show, appeared in. This isn't a good movie. 



This is another "people go into the woods and get dead movie". While it does have some fun special effects work from John Carl Buechler, the kills are creative and the killer looks cool, the movie is drug down with a terrible plot and pacing. Check out my full review at the link above for more details. 




There have been a lot of the retro slashers that have come out in the last few years. Movies that want to either remind you of the eighties or flat out try and set themselves in that decade. Most fail, some spectacularly. Death Rink doesn't do either. Check out my review for more details. 




I like to end these marathons on a high note by covering an old favorite or diving into one of the franchises. The Final Chapter is both of these. A great movie with some stellar effects work from Tom Savini and the dance moves of Crispin Glover. This is a must see. 




That is it for the Slasher marathon for the summer of 2021. I hope you guys enjoyed it and watch next summer for another installment. I still have some Friday the 13th movies, the Hatchet franchise, good old Chrome Skull, as well as many others to get to yet. If you have any suggestions for movies you would like to see me cover send an email to gutmunchers@gmail.com and I'll add them to my list. 

-John

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Night of the Cobra Woman (1972)

I found another shot in the Philippines movie to review here for the website. This one kicks off with some nurses looking for plants to help their patients. This must happen during World War II since a Japanese soldier shows up and rapes one of them, leaving her for dead. Luckily the other, Lena, went into a nearby cave and was bitten by a snake. One that just so happened to be a God! That allows her to save her friend because you know… snake magic!

The action then jumps forward to “today” being the early seventies when this was made. There is an American student in Manilla studying antivenom and she decides that she must find the legendary Firebrand cobra. That leads her to a still young Lena and all sorts of shenanigans ensue. When Joanna, the American girl, tells her boyfriend about her search he heads out to see Lena. That is a bad idea because not only is he bitten by a cobra, but Lena then falls in love with him. This is unfortunate since she isn’t kind to her lovers, draining them of their “years” and leaving them old men. Luckily, snake venom will temporarily reverse the process. This all leads to a big showdown where I think evil wins. Yeah, it really does.

This is a low budget cheesy drive-in movie that is silly in all the best ways. The story is a bit confusing at times but serves the purpose of getting Lena her victims while providing an excuse for her to disrobe. Most importantly is the plot is tight and there is always something interesting happening on screen. You will not be bored by this movie. The acting is passable, and the cast are trying their best with what is a silly idea. Speaking of actors, I absolutely love Vic Diaz in this movie. He plays a dual role as the hunchbacked child born of the rape as well as the Japanese soldier who fathered him. Neither role has any dialogue, but he excels as Lope, the hunchback, hopping and squealing thru his scenes. Seriously this dude is a treasure of the drive-in genre. I also did a double take when I recognized actress Joy Bang in the role of Joanna. She was in one of my favorites Messiah of Evil the following year. She didn’t work a lot seeming to retire in the early seventies, so it was neat to see her show up here.

Cobra Eyes!
The makeup effects are goofy looking though all the skin peeling did creep me out. Though that might just be a personal hang up. Unfortunately, the rest of the gore is real. There are cock fights, an eagle killing a snake, and another snake getting chopped up. I’m not terribly squeamish myself having grown up hunting but it sucks seeing animals killed for the purposes of entertainment. It didn’t spoil the movie for me as this was common in the Philippines and part of the culture, but it did bug me. If you are sensitive to that sort of thing, be warned.

I like this movie. It checks a lot of those must have drive-in movie boxes. A small cast doing their best. Just a couple locations for most of the shoot. Special effects on a low budget. And an attitude of just going for it. This isn’t a perfect flick at all, but Night to the Cobra Woman does have its moments. I recommend checking it out.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

 

 

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Phantoms by Dean Koontz

Well it was only a matter of time before I reviewed a Koontz novel for the blog. He is one of my go to writers when I want to kick back and enjoy a few hours of literary horror. Here I decided to check out Phantoms, which I hadn’t read before, but I really dug the movie adaptation. Though I realize I might be the only person that did… well one of two… “Affleck, you the bomb in Phantoms, yo!”

Jenny is returning home to Snowfield, a small mountain town in California, with her younger sister Lisa. Their mother having died recently Jenny is now her only family. The town is eerily silent when they arrive and quickly enough, they discover a couple bodies. They make their way to the Sheriff’s substation and finding it abandoned make a call for help. This brings the sheriff, Hammond, and several of his men to their aid. Finding more bodies and thinking it might be a viral outbreak or unidentified disease they quarantine themselves and call for help from the military.

I’ll let you in on a little secret… it isn’t either of the above. What is it? Pretty early on Koontz lets the reader in on the fact that there is some intelligence behind the events. Something lurking in the shadows ready to leap out at any moment. This leads to the drama and tension that he does so well at creating. For a good chunk of the story it isn’t clear if this is some supernatural bugaboo or if it could all be explained by science. We get to see both sides thru the different characters populating the story. In the end it is still sort of left up to the reader to decide thru a series of clever twists. I love it when a book keeps you guessing.

The horror elements to Phantoms are very satisfying. The title refers to the fact that the thing lurking in the shadows can create doppelgangers of those that it has killed. Basically, phantoms that look correct, but aren’t quite right, that pop out and mess with the characters. The thing also enjoys tormenting people and has an excellent running conversation via a computer. In a way I think that Koontz predicted the horrible language used on texting/messaging all the way back in the early eighties! In addition to what I’ve already mentioned above there are some excellent kills where the absorption of victims is described in some detail and we even have a couple times when people are torn apart by tentacles. There really is a heck of a lot going on in this book!

My only criticism of Phantoms is that so much is happening in the book. I loved all the stuff related to the town but there is this odd bit tacked on with a man who killed his family and was arrested by Hammond. He breaks out of jail and ends up in the mountains where he meets another ancillary character who had been mentioned as the leader of a motorcycle gang. They exist only to be influenced by the shadowy creature into trying to get some revenge at the end of the novel in a sequence that feels equally as tacked on. This entire subplot and these characters seem unnecessary.

I’ve already mentioned the movie based on this book. As I normally do, I thought I’d compare the two of them. Sherriff Hammond seems like a much older character in the book, but the movie stars a younger Ben Affleck circa the late nineties. We also get the sister, Lisa, aged up a bit as she is portrayed by Rose McGowan. He was twenty-six and she was twenty-five when Phantoms was released. The movie also does a smart thing and focuses on the happenings in Snowfield, ignoring the murderer and biker gang. Other than that, it is really faithful to the book and what I’d consider a great adaptation.

I’ve always liked the movie and honestly liked the book even better. It’s an excellent read that is packed with enough creepy stuff to keep any horror fan glued to the pages. I’ve only mentioned a couple of the disturbing images and goings on in my review here. There is a lot more of it to be enjoyed. I recommend tracking yourself down a copy of Phantoms.

 

Ó Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

 

 

 

 

Monday, May 24, 2021

Hand of Death (1962)

I’m always talking about the fifties as the decade of the cheesy monster movie, but we got a few in the early sixties as well. This one stars John Agar as Alex, a scientist working on nerve gas to prevent a nuclear war. Yeah, I get it, but it was a different time, and this is a goofy creature feature so just go with it. Things kick off with the mailman showing up in a sweet little Model “A” Ford and immediately collapses in the front yard of a farmhouse. Some hazmat suit wearing figures come out and carry him into the lab. The poor guy had the misfortune of walking into one of Alex’s experiments, but no harm is done as they revive him.

Excited at the success Alex returns home to speak with his mentor, Dr. Ramsey, and his lady Carol. He thinks he can finish his formula in a month and returns to his lab in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately, things aren’t quite going well and, in his rush to make the deadline he gets careless. So much so that he is exposed to the nerve gas, but it doesn’t kill him. It absorbs into his body so that anyone he touches dies. The poison in his system is also slowly killing and mutating him as well. Much mayhem occurs until as all proper monster movies should it ends with a sad walk away from the dead creature.

Hand of Death is a very simple and familiar creature feature. Well-meaning scientist has an accident and turns into monster. He has a love interest who he puts in danger. The police/army roll in to save the day. We are all a little bit sad at his fate but also understand you shouldn’t play God. This formula was used again and again and to some extent is still used today. I’m okay with the movie not breaking any new ground as long as it is executed well. Clocking with a runtime that is barely over an hour Hand of Death is a fast paced and fun watch. John Agar was very good in these sorts of flicks and it is no different here. We also get to see a very young Butch Patrick, Eddie from The Munsters, as a kid who has a close call with the monster.

Its clobbering time!
I did do a double take when Joe Besser from the Three Stooges shows up as a service station attendant. This leads me to one observation and that is the odd attempts at humor. In between the horrible deaths we get some comedic bits including the brief scene with Besser. That seemed odd, but it doesn’t slow things down or ruin the monster, so I guess that it isn’t a big deal. Still weird though.

The creature is a very basic design, but it works well. The makeup looks very much like The Thing from the Fantastic Four comic, which was created a few years after this. Could there be some inspiration there? Who knows, but it is fun to speculate. The deaths are all brought to screen with the victims covered in the same deformities as Alex, though they aren’t resistant to the poison, which is why it kills them right away.

If you are looking for a way to turn your brain off and kill an hour there are a heck of a lot worse ways to do this than Hand of Death. While not the best example this is a perfectly serviceable monster movie that will scratch that itch if you feel the need. I recommend it.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Why? (2019)

I was digging thru my to watch pile when I found this movie and thought I’d check it out. From what I could find online it was pitched as a slasher movie, but really isn’t. What it is or at least is trying to be is a psychological thriller with most of the movie a cat and mouse game between a woman in an isolated cabin and a crazed killer who likes to wear faces. Well, that sounds familiar doesn’t it?

After showing us a woman getting killed in a parking garage the action moves to a woman and man in bed talking about their big weekend at “the cabin”. They seem to be in love and shit so that is a thing. Then the action moves to a lady and her guy having sex in a tent in the woods. Someone sneaks up on them and hacks them to death with an axe. At this point I had no idea what is going on, but the movie had my attention. Three solid kills right away, maybe this was a slasher flick. Then it all goes sideways.

The woman from earlier in bed is named Blake and we see her driving to the cabin when she gets a phone call. This serves two purposes. One to establish that cell service is crappy where she is headed and two to give us our first glorified cameo. Natasha Henstridge shows up for a hot minute on the phone as her editor. After promising to work on her new book Blake stops at a store and the locals get weird when she tells them she is headed to the Conrad cabin. I suppose they know there is a killer running around. But if so, why not say something? Yeah, I know horror tropes and all.

As you have probably figured out the killer is around and starts to mess with her right away. He even breaks in the house and watches her sleep. Though I found it annoying that he is always magically able to be right there in the shadows and she never sees him. I can forgive a couple of times, but they do it again and again. At some point she had to know he was there. Even more annoying is when she sees the killer, she drops her phone and runs away… aimlessly thru the woods. It was at this point I began rooting for the killer just to get this movie over with.

Other things happen like her boyfriend calling the local sheriff for him to do a welfare check. This allows Lance Henriksen to show up on the phone in yet another glorified cameo. He sends his deputy out and blah blah blah… You know what? I really didn’t like this movie.

Clocking in at only seventy-eight minutes this movie had to work very hard to be this boring. After some fun kills in the first ten the rest of the flick is nothing more than an uninteresting killer in a hoodie walking around the woods/house. All the characters are bland, including said killer, and I honestly didn’t care what was going on. Henstridge and Henriksen are obviously cashing paychecks as both are phoning in their performances… literally! Some of the kills look decent and there is a fun gag with a faceless woman, but that doesn’t save the movie.

I have no idea what they were trying to make here but whatever it was they failed. There clearly was some talent here as the movie looks good and is shot well. The makeup was also fine, and I don’t think the cast was too bad. They just had no plot and not even enough ideas to fill up the short runtime. Oh, and they only got to that length with the inclusion of an obvious nightmare scene and tacked on gag with a babysitter that had absolutely nothing to do with the main story. Why? I guess the title is referring to the audience looking at each other and asking, “Why did I waste my time watching this?”. I don’t recommend wasting your time on this one.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

 

 

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

The Forgotten Room by Lincoln Child

This is another in the series of stories surrounding Dr. Jeremy Logan, an enigmalogist. The title and discipline are one that he has made for himself. A history professor by day he finds himself brought into situations to investigate phenomenon that has no logical explanation. I’ve totally read these out of order having already reviewed Terminal Freeze for the site, where he is a supporting character. I’ve also covered the follow up Full Wolf Moon. Thought I’d might as well fill in the gap.

Things kick off with Logan at a press conference having solved the riddle of Loch Ness. Thru solid research he has proven that there is no way that the creature can possibly exist, so everyone needs to stop putting themselves at risk searching the treacherous waters. Then of course we see the private conversation afterwards about destroying the evidence that he has found. Nessie exists, but to protect it and those looking for it the powers that be decide to cover it up and destroy the evidence! Cool way to start the story. This conversation is interrupted when he is summoned to return back to the U.S. to help out an old friend.

The Lux is a thinktank, basically a place where the smartest of the smart can get together and do research. They are housed in a huge mansion that has been their home for a hundred years. One of their retiring members had a mental break and killed himself in a rather gruesome way. Those in charge don’t believe that it was a simple suicide and hire Logan to investigate. Backtracking on the work that the man was doing before he died Logan discovers a mysterious room with an even more mysterious machine in it. The remainder of the book is the unraveling of the purpose of the room and contents. Also why are people hearing voices? And who is trying to kill him?

Yet again the author does a fantastic job of playing on the expectations of the reader. For much of the book it seems as if the machine is summoning or at least allowing ghosts to speak to the living. Different characters hear voices and music in the night and eventually they intrude on the day. This causes all sorts of erratic behaviors including attempted suicide and violent outbursts. Logan keeping his mind open dives into the work as if it is some sort of primitive EVP device. But as more of the story is revealed a scientific, but not less fascinating story is told. Much like Full Wolf Moon I like the idea of logical real world explanations of the supernatural.

The last quarter of the book the action kicks up as the killers descend on the Lux after it has been evacuated due to an incoming hurricane. There is a big chase scene thru the mansion as Logan’s survival skills and cleverness are put to the test. Eventually he is able to turn the tables on the antagonists and save the day. If I had a complaint about The Forgotten Room, it would be this sequence. The running around and hiding form the killers gets monotonous after a while. I loved the setup and the mystery leading up to it, but this just seemed forced. It was like Child didn’t have a good way to end the story.

We also get some more background on the character as it is explained he was briefly a member of the Lux before his field of study was deemed unworthy of the institution. This is also the first time that Logan’s wife is mentioned. I enjoy that these snippets of information are parsed out slowly by Child to the reader giving more depth to the Logan character one book at a time.

For me the Forgotten Room wasn’t a slam dunk like Terminal Freeze or Full Wolf Moon. But it still is a solid book that is a decent read if you find yourself a copy. That said if you wanted to dip your toes into the world of Dr. Jeremy Logan, I’d recommend Terminal Freeze as a better place to start. And it is the first time he appears as more than a minor character (he is mentioned or appears in one scene in earlier books) so you would be reading it in order!

 

Ó Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Saturday, May 15, 2021

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)

The government is conducting an experiment in the arctic circle where they are testing out some atomic bombs. The most recent test sets something free from the ice. The scientists find this out when they go to check on the results of their latest experiment and run into a dinosaur that had been frozen in the ice but is now on the loose and hungry. Bad things happen leading to the death of one of the men and the other is ignored and sent to talk to the psychiatrist. You know because it couldn’t have been a dinosaur. 

When a fishing boat and lighthouse are destroyed those in charge start to listen. A paleontologist gets involved and helps to identify the dinosaur and determine that the creature is trying to return to it’s old hunting grounds. Unfortunately, that turns out to be where New York City is! The creature goes stomping around town eating people and smashing buildings and generally making a nuisance of itself. The army comes along and starts shooting it, but soon discover that it is carrying some nasty prehistoric diseases which means its blood is toxic. So, no pew pew unless they want everyone to die. In the end they shoot/inject it with a radioactive isotope that will kill it as well as the diseases it carries. 

This is one of those fifties movies that has somehow gotten lost in the shuffle. The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms has everything you could ask for from a creature feature. The pacing is great with the monster showing up early and often. It was a nice twist that we the audience gets to see what our main character sees but have to watch him be dismissed by everyone else. When the doubters are onboard, the action continues with a series of attacks and battles with the beast as it smashes its way down the East Coast. I also thought the twist of it having diseases and not being able to just blow it away was cool. I don’t remember another sci-fi movie using this as a plot point before, at least not one of these creature features. 


The special effects work is a lot of fun. The titular beast is brought to the screen thru the magic of stop motion which is blended in perfectly with some nice model work. They do a fantastic job of adding in the actors and sets to match it up. This is done with some rear projection techniques that are old school, which of course I dig. Some of the best gags are an underwater diving bell, the big finale with a roller coaster, a wall that falls on some actors, and the lighthouse getting smashed. That last one with the lighthouse is an iconic sequence. 

My personal favorite and the one that scared the hell out of a very young me is a bit with a police officer. He shoots at the monster and while reloading gets snatched up. The scene lingers on the now stop motion legs kicking as he is chewed up and swallowed. That is gruesome for a movie from the fifties, and it has always stuck with me. Now of course the desensitized old man that I am just smiles with nostalgia. None of the above should come as a surprise though since the legendary Ray Harryhausen was responsible for all of the miniature and stop motion effects.

The monster is toast!
I have a few more things to mention. The cast includes genre favorite Kenneth Tobey, who shows up in a lot of these science fiction flicks. We also get small roles from two very young actors that would go on to be famous. James Best (Killer Shrews, Dukes of Hazzard) is a radio operator and the great Lee Van Cleef (Spaghetti Westerns… so many Spaghetti Westerns) is the sharpshooter brought in to take the monster down. If that weren’t enough the script was based on a story by Ray Bradbury. Is it any wonder that this movie is so good?

Clearly, I love The Best from 20,000 Fathoms. I grew up on movies like this and can say if I were to list my top five fifties sci-fi/horror flicks this would easily make the top ten if not top five. If you haven’t seen this yet do yourself a favor and track down a copy. It is well worth the effort. 


© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer


Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Boys from County Hell (2020)

When I saw this pop up on Shudder, I knew that I had to give it a watch. I mean an Irish vampire flick sounds too good to be true. Toss in the fact that it was also pitched as a horror comedy and well I really wanted it to be good. So, was it? Let’s dive in and see.

The movie kicks off with an older couple sitting in their living room watching television. Suddenly they start to bleed out of their orifices and the door busts in, though we can’t see who it is. Then the movie jumps back two months, and we see some locals taking tourists out to check out a cairn marking the grave of a supposed vampire from local legend. They clearly aren’t believers because they scare the shit out of the tourists and laugh at them. But they got free beer out of it so all is good. But then things take a spooky turn.

There are a lot of moving parts with this movie and a plethora of characters. I’m going to do my best to keep it simple and not spoil anything. The legend of the vampire is real and thru an accident he is brought back to life… or I guess un-life. The locals start to get killed off with one or two coming back as vampires. But they have their own unique rules for how that works, which is explained with some dialogue. I also loved how the vampire can feed at a distance which made it even creepier. We also have a conflict between a father and his son, who is trying to make his dead mother’s farm viable. The son is one of the “boys” that must do battle with the vampire. Things get bloody and fun before the finale.

I enjoyed the heck out of this movie. It takes a while for the crazy stuff to get going but when it does it never stops. Limbs go flying, blood gets drained, eyes bleed, noses bleed, and yes vampires get staked. Though that doesn’t kill these “real” vampires it only slows them down. The last half of this movie is very bloody and very fun. The first half we meet the characters and set up the story to come. This is also very well done, and I found myself rooting for them and a bit sad when inevitably some of them don’t make it. I don’t consider that a spoiler by the way. Boys from County Hell is a vampire flick you must know that it isn’t going to end well for everyone.

The Boys
I was a little concerned that we were going to get a lot of CGI but not so much. Too many of the kills happen offscreen but we do get a decent throat slash and an axe to the leg. Though my favorite might be a gag with a metal pole and a vampire’s heart. I think that these were practical or maybe practical with a CGI assist. They look that good so if it was digital, I’m impressed. Where the movie is outstanding is creature makeup. We get a couple “normal” vampires that look about what you would expect them too. But the old vampire that is awakened and set free, Abhartach, looks amazing. He has a very nosferatu look to him and it works perfectly. While they keep him hidden for much of the movie when he does pop on screen, they don’t shy away from showing the audience. The actor portraying the monster also does a great job bringing a character with no dialogue to life. In a movie like this you need to nail the creature and they do that.

This is one of those times when I really wanted to like a movie and ended up have a blast with it. I love the different take on the vampire myth and the fact that the script takes the time to include dialogue explaining the rules for these creatures of the night. Which ironically is one of the things that they changed; daylight is no big deal! If you have Shudder check out Boys from County Hell. If you don’t sign up so you can watch this and some of the other great genre flicks they have for streaming. I highly recommend the movie and the service.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

 

 

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

The Sea by R. Karl Largent

I’ve been reading a lot of Largent’s books lately including an earlier tale starring the same character that is the protagonist of this book, Elliot Wages. Since I enjoyed the Ancients, I was all in to check out his next adventure. When I read that The Sea was about a search for Nazi gold and involved the Bermuda Triangle I was sold!

The main character of the book and whose point of view the reader experiences the story is Wages, an author who likes to investigate weird things for inspiration. Minding his own business and headed down to meet an old pal for what he thinks is a friendly visit Wages gets sucked in a search for a sunken U-boat full of Nazi gold. Eventually he finds himself in the middle of the sea on a disabled ship surrounded by strangers, at least one of whom is a murderer. Someone doesn’t want the search for the gold to be successful and is willing to kill to stop it! If that isn’t enough for you toss in a vanished barge, a prehistoric shark, and a fog so thick you can’t see more than a couple of feet. This one has all the creepy hallmarks to be a great time.

Unfortunately, the Sea somehow misses the mark. The book opens with a lot of great action and mystery. Before we get to the meat of the plot Wages ends up protecting a mysterious and beautiful woman from his past. Her abusive husband comes looking for her so when Wages leaves on his trip, he insists she come along. Though it is convenient that she is also a diver, which the expedition can use. The missing barge and prehistoric shark are introduced early on after they arrive and start diving, which gets us right to the action. Then the sabotage and murders begin and adds to the mystery of what is going on. These are all good things that had me sucked right into the story. But then things took a turn about three quarters of the way in.

I’m going to do my best to keep things vague, but there will be some spoilers coming. I hate doing that but to explain my issues with the Sea I need to mention some specifics. With that warning I’m ready to proceed. First the book mentions the Bermuda Triangle and shows us a semitruck sized prehistoric shark in a few scenes. But then mostly dismisses both, especially the shark that is used to fill out a couple of pages but then disappears. The most important bit with the shark is implied and annoyed the hell out of me, more on that later. Don’t tease me with a supernatural/creature plot and then ignore it. This is further complicated by my second complaint.

We end up with a big conspiracy with characters trying to steal the gold for themselves. I guess that is okay, but the twist at the end is terrible. In hindsight I suppose I should have seen it coming, but the “plan” that was put into motion has so many moving parts that it is almost impossible for them to have predicted it would turn out the way they wanted. The entire thing is so implausible that instead of a “AHA” moment you get a “No Freaking Way” moment. This made me even more irritated with the author abandoning the shark and/or triangle plotline.

The third and final issue that I have with the book is a personal pet peeve of mine. I hate it when we have a protagonist that doesn’t get to be involved in the resolution of the story. Here Wages ends up on a life raft adrift in the ocean while the “bad guys” get away on a boat. Weeks later, after being rescued, he is reading the paper and sees a report that the boat was found without any survivors. The reader is supposed to infer that the shark attacked and ate them… So not only is the “hero” not involved but he doesn’t seem to care about getting revenge on the men who tried to kill him! What the hell is that all about? We get zero resolution.

Largent is a good writer and like I said for much of The Sea this was fun read. But as a good friend of mine likes to say, “they crapped the bed at the end”. This is one of those books that is ruined by the lame ending. I’d recommend checking out The Ancients from Largent, which also features the character of Elliot Wages before reading this one. As far as The Sea goes, I can’t recommend it.

 

Ó Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Monday, May 10, 2021

Ape vs Monster (2021)

I love the Asylum and their Mockbusters. If you don’t know what that is well then please allow me to explain. When a big movie, say Godzilla vs Kong comes out companies like this will put out a similar but much cheaper version to cash in. While I’ve been disappointed in the last few that they have done I still haven’t given up hope that the Asylum can get back to making some fun bad movies. Is this the one? Time to check out Ape vs Monster.

The international space station almost gets taken out by something streaking towards Earth. They manage to get a picture of it and realize it is a space craft from a secret joint mission to space that the United States and Soviet Union worked on together in the mid-eighties during the cold war. It has been missing for years but apparently has returned home. The capsule only had one occupant, a chimpanzee named Abraham, who must be long dead after over thirty years adrift. Also on the ship is some weird green goo. This goo mutates Abraham turning him into a giant ape and when a lizard comes by and licks it up it becomes a monster. We also have some aliens zipping around directing the big critters to Washington D.C. for some smashing. Abraham the Ape fights off the alien control with the help of the humans and does battle with the monster. Well, they punch each other a few times. Then he kills the monster, and the aliens fly away. The end.

This movie is stupid and awful… and I loved every minute of it. This is the kind of silly bad movie that the Asylum used to make. Is it dumb? Sure is. Are the CGI effects terrible? Check! Is the acting bad? Oh hell yes it is! Did they get Eric Roberts for a day to sit in an office and talk on the phone like he is in charge? Absolutely. You are probably asking yourself why I like this movie or at least why I think this one is good when others are bad. When the Asylum is at their best, they are tossing so much at the screen that you can’t possibly be bored enough to think about what you are watching. Not when bad CGI monsters are running amok being chased by even worse CGI helicopters whose exteriors don’t match the set that the actors are in at all!

With Ape vs Monster we not only get the creatures fighting and Eric Roberts but there is also Cold War spying, betrayals, a messed-up father daughter relationship, sexism by an army guy, and an old family friend getting squished. This movie starts off fast and never lets up. There is always something on screen to pay attention to. That breakneck pacing is what makes the movie work. Again, the key is to not let the audience think about what they are watching. Trust me if you do have your brain turned on it will ruin the movie for you.

If you like the Asylum at its best, think the first Sharknado or Lavalantula, then you will likely have fun with Ape vs Monster. It has the same shitty charm that those movies do. If on the other hand you want a serious movie with a budget… well why the hell are you watching an Asylum flick? I’ve been accused in the past of recommending bad movies and this time that assertion is correct. Check out Ape vs Monster in all of it cheesy terrible glory!

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Friday, May 7, 2021

Alien 2: On Earth (1980)

You have to love those wacky Italian filmmakers. This is one of several attempts to cash in on the popularity of the original Alien movie. This time we have some Astronauts returning from a mission in space, though this is mostly just in the background. Our main characters are a group of cave explorers who are on their way to do some spelunking. Though not before one of them, Thelma, stops by a television station to give an interview because the others are bowling. She almost faints on camera and her boyfriend, Roy, explains that she is psychic. This is important later.

So, the friends head out to explore the cave. When one of them is peeing he finds a weird blue rock and decides to take it with him. In addition to being a psychic cave explorer it seems that Thelma is also a geologist and loves rocks. But this isn’t any rock, no it is in fact an alien rock. It eventually hatches and attaches itself to one of Thelma’s friends. I think that the biology here is that the rock sprouts a critter that infects a person whose face eventually explodes out into an alien slime creature. How did the rocks get everywhere so quickly? What does the space mission mentioned earlier have to do with it? I have no clue as this movie makes not one lick of sense.

Let me establish right away that I have a fondness for these late seventies and early eighties Italian flicks. The bad dubbing, confusing story, as well as their incessant need to “borrow” whatever was popular that week puts a smile on my face. I mention this because while Alien 2 is an absolute mess of a movie I kind of liked it. From the silly attempts at acting “American” to the weird performances that are partly due to the dubbing and partly due to the cast I found the movie to be entertaining. Though I’ll admit it does drag a bit in the beginning, things do pick up once they hit the cave.

The special effects work is sort of fun. The creature design is a bit lame with it basically being some stringy tentacle looking things and a rock. But we do get some fun kills with a little girl missing her face, a face getting carved up, eyeball popping, and an exploding head. Though my favorite gag is a head getting ripped off and rolling along the ground. Okay that might be my second favorite as the alien hatching thru the eyehole of one of the ladies is memorable too. All of this is practical and while not the greatest work I’ve seen it is plentiful and fun. You can always count on Italian horror from this time period to toss some of the red stuff at you.

Now to the story. Like I’ve already mentioned it doesn’t make any sense. I think that stock footage of astronauts and space capsules are just meant to make it seem like whatever the rocks are came from space. But if they came from the mission how did one of them end up next to a building where one of them was relieving himself? More importantly how did they wipe out humanity, basically everyone is dead when the survivors escape the cave, if there were just a couple on the returning ship? This is where my years of keenly honed Italian genre movie watching skills come into play. Let me impart this wisdom to you. This isn’t going to make sense so just kick back turn your brain on idle and enjoy the proceedings.

This movie is never boring, always has some weird shit happening (intentional or otherwise) and kept my attention from start to finish. Remember the whole psychic thing? Well that allows for Thelma to sense the rocks and is used as an excuse for her not being a hatchery for little aliens slime monsters. Why? Let me remind you again that the plot makes no sense, but they explode a little girls face off so in my mind that makes up for it. I enjoyed Alien 2: On Earth and if you are of the same mindset as me when it comes to these kinds of movies then you may too. With that qualified recommendation I’m off to watch some more crappy flicks.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Road Trip to see Sam Jones – He saved every one of us edition.

It has been a while since I’ve done one of these road trip write ups. With the Coronavirus cancelling everything there hasn’t been much to do or talk about. But now that I’ve got my second shot and things are loosening up a bit, I thought it was time to get back out there again and have some fun. Don’t worry though I’m still wearing my mask and keeping my hands washed. We still need to be careful you know.

When my friends Eric and Angie, of Midnight Magazine, let me know that the great Sam Jones was touring comic book shops to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the Flash Gordon movie I knew that I had to see him. I mean this was one of my favorite flicks as a kid and Flash was right up there with Luke Skywalker for me. I might be an old fat bald guy but I’m still that kid at heart and damn it I’m going to meet him!

Plans were made and I started looking around for what I wanted to get signed. I have a cool DVD release of the movie and it came with a nifty insert card so that was perfect. I also decided to get an 8x10 off of his table as well. Now that I had a plan on what I was to get autographed I needed to think about the picture. I needed a perfect shirt for this, and I found one on Amazon. It is a replica of the red and white shirt from the first encounter with Ming in his throne room. Yeah guys I was that nerdy and wore the shirt to meet the actor! I did mention that this was a big deal to me so deal with it.

I got up bright and early Saturday morning and headed off to Eric and Angie’s house. We were going to carpool over to the comic shop and get some food afterward. It was a decent morning, and the drive was fine. I arrived early and was able to sit around chatting with them about the day’s plans as well as just talking movies and comics. I miss my friends, and this has been or at least felt like a long winter. After shooting the shit for a while we piled in the car and headed off to the comic shop.

Comics, Cards, and Collectables used to be one of my frequent haunts thirty plus years ago when I was in College. Yes, in addition to being a movie nerd I also used to be a comic book nerd! I had never been to his new location, so it was interesting to see as well as a bit nostalgic being in a comic shop again. The signing took place in their backroom which is more like a warehouse. Mr. Jones hadn’t arrived yet, so I took that opportunity to browse a bit. I picked up a couple of old Starlog magazines including one of their poster books. They were in the dollar bin and were in excellent shape. Mostly I just had fun digging thru comics and magazines looking for treasures.

The guest of honor arrived, and I waited patiently for my turn. When my number was called, I brought my DVD up to his table and picked out the picture I wanted him to sign. I can honestly say that Sam Jones is one of the nicest guys that I’ve ever met. Making sure everyone who was there had their time to talk to him and he commented on everyone’s items. A lot of times at these signings the celebrity gets into an assembly line mode but not here. It was fun to hear him talk to the fans and ask them where they got their item and talk about the similar things he has seen in the past. He was engaging and charming, which made getting to meet him all the cooler. Oh, and before anyone sends me an angry message yes I’m not wearing a mask in the picture with him. We took them off before the pictures were taken and put them right back on afterwards. Safety first you know!

After getting our stuff signed and talking to the other folks at the shop we headed out for a nice lunch of Mexican food at a local place. Then Eric and Angie took me over to a new record store that not only had some cool music for sale, I picked up a couple L.A. Guns CDs… yes actual physical media, but also one of the establishments that sells Midnight Magazine. I picked up a few other goodies, hung out for a while longer talking movies, and then headed home.

All in all it was an amazing day meeting one of my childhood heroes. Here is hoping that the rest of this year gives me more opportunities to get out into the world, hang out with my friends, and do fun stuff like this. To get there we need to continue to be careful, wear your masks, get the shot, and generally think about others when you are in public. If we all keep vigilant we will get thru this and get back to normal.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Gargantua (1998)

Remember that awful Matthew Broderick Godzilla flick? Well, it was a big deal before it came out so of course someone decided to make a mockbuster for the Sci-Fi channel. Here we have Adam Baldwin horribly miscast as a marine biologist who just happens to be on a Polynesian island when an earthquake changes the underwater terrain and redirects the path of some giant lizard monsters who stroll up on the beach and start eating the locals. His son also befriends a baby which is what the big ones are looking for. Additionally, we have some local fishermen who are mad that they can’t go fishing, as well as a reporter and doctor who all interact with Baldwin’s science guy. Because you can’t have enough characters, we get another scientist on the island investigating stuff and they become science bros and take a sub down to do science. There they find pollution from old, rusted drums of pesticide that I think maybe mutated the giant lizard things because… science?

Clearly this isn’t a very good movie. The plot is clunky and familiar without bringing anything new. I’m okay with that as the familiar is nice sometimes. What did bug me was the glacial pacing. We get too many useless scenes that don’t move things along. The entire subplot of the kid, played by a very young Emile Hirsch, befriending the small monster has a very Gadzookie feel to it, but not in a fun way. This entire plot is sort of useless except as an explanation why the bigger lizard monsters follow them out into the ocean. This itself leads to an ending that really isn’t an ending. They lead the monsters back into the ocean and away from the island. Okay so what happens next? Do the many dead folks not get avenged at all? Sure, one of the monsters is dead… but damn it!

I’m a big fan of Adam Baldwin but he is totally wrong for this part. While I’m not sure he was helped by the dialogue and silly story I don’t think under the best of circumstances I could have bought him as a scientist. I’m pretty sure he was cast because people recognized him from Independence Day. He tries his best but this miscasting hurts the movie badly.

The various creatures are brought to the screen using some old school tricks including forced perspective and an awesomely bad rubber puppet. Really, I loved the creature appliance they created. It isn’t good but I have a soft spot for such things. But they do screw the pooch with some downright terrible CGI, even by made for television late nineties standards. Just about the time I was liking what they were doing they blew it with some terrible digital effect. That was frustrating.

In the end this is a harmless and not good cash in on an equally disappointing Godzilla movie. It is very cheesy and throws a lot of things at the audience, most of which don’t stick. I won’t hate on this too much because it is what it was supposed to be. Utterly forgettable and an easy way to kill ninety minutes while turning your brain off. While that isn’t a recommendation it is the best thing, I can say about Gargantua.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer

Monday, May 3, 2021

Cemetery of Terror (1985)

I was going to put this in my slasher movie marathon this summer, but I just couldn’t. There is a lot of the movie that is clearly in the slasher category, but this is one that switches gears partway thru. Normally that is a train wreck in the making but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t work here. More on that later on, time to get to the plot synopsis.

There is a bad guy named Devlon who killed a bunch of people and got gunned down by the police. He had a doctor named Cardan, played by Hugo Stiglitz, who knows he was evil and wants to get the body cremated right away. It seems Devlon was a Satanist and that he was promised eternal life or something like that by the Devil. No one else believes him but he persists and finally forges some paperwork to make that happen. Sadly, it is too late.

A bunch of older kids, high school or maybe college, go have a party at an old house by the cemetery. There they find Devlon’s book, and the guys decide to freak the girls out by stealing a body and reading from the book/casting a spell. Guess whose body they steal? As promised Devlon comes back to life and starts killing all over again. We also see a bunch of younger kids that decide to test their bravery by walking thru the cemetery. This is a bad day to do this. Did I mention yet this all takes place on Halloween night? That adds to the spooky fun and explains why the kids want to scare the hell out of themselves. Bodies pile up, children are threatened, and believe it or not Devlon raises a cemetery full of zombies to chase after the kids. This movie is tossing a ton of shit at the audience and somehow it all sticks.

Don't read the spooky book in the cemetery!
I can’t for the life of me figure out why this movie works. Normally when horror subgenres are mashed together like this you get an unfocused and unpleasant result. Here they mix the Satanist/supernatural plot with a slasher and add in a dash of zombie movie. To top it all off the last third of the movie are a bunch of kids being menaced by all sort of bad guys Goonies style. That is a dish that should taste like crap, but it doesn’t. Why does it work here?

After the first twenty minutes establishing characters and setting up the story the pacing picks up and the movie is always showing something fun on the screen. That helps keep your mind from wandering and even noticing the tonal changes. The movie also does a decent job exceling at what it is trying to do at the time. The kills are decent, and we get some guts ripped out and a respectable body count of seven. Don’t expect explicit gore but it is respectable. So, the slasher part of the story works. The supernatural part works equally as well. They don’t try any over the top stuff, but we do have a guy shuffling around who looks like a recently dead Satanist. They don’t get too silly by dressing him in robes or shit like that, he is just creepy looking guy in normal clothes. And when they get to the zombies those are also fun. Understand these are more Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things grey faced creations rather than Day of the Dead zombies. But I dig the old school look.

Note to self... Crosses work on zombies!
The actors, including the kids, are pretty good. Even the younger kids sell being scared very well. The most recognizable name to most genre fans is Hugo Stiglitz who is also pretty good here. Though he isn’t in as much of the movie as you would think. Though in a way his character connects the story and moves the things along, so his performance is important. Plus he is basically Mexican Doctor Loomis so that is awesome. There is also a strange vibe to the proceedings. While made by a Mexican company and director with a mostly Mexican cast it was shot across the border in Brownsville Texas. It feels like an American movie only with everyone speaking Spanish. I kind of liked that and think it gives Cemetery of Terror a unique feel.

Bottom line is this is a great flick. If you like eighties horror and are looking for something different that you haven’t seen before I bet that this will scratch that itch. I’m such a fan that I’m going to start looking for other movies made by this director, Ruben Galindo Jr. If this isn’t a one off from him then I might have stumbled onto a new favorite. I highly recommend Cemetery of Terror.

 

© Copyright 2021 John Shatzer